Written by Panorama resident, Bob Bowers. February 2020
Roupen S. threw a worm into Panorama’s lake and I was one of 50 Panorama fish who took the bait and got hooked. What he offered us was essentially a brief history of music and musical composition. What we got was the enthusiastic musicology course we didn’t have in college. Sounds boring doesn’t it – like a course for uppity nerds. But, if that’s what you think, you are overwhelmingly wrong.
It wasn’t the music that primarily excited my soul; although, honestly, it did. The music came from many disks played on a tiny Bose. I had heard many of them on my own tiny Bose. Roupen had them laid out before him and selected each illuminating sample as it became appropriate in his course outline. He would give us a smattering of lecture and illustrate it with a tiny sample of music. Then, when he had to interrupt the music, he would shudder, smile, and apologize because he hated moving on before the full beauty of the whole piece had been savored.
The course was temptingly presented. The lecture wasn’t in the least boring. It wasn’t as though Roupen had carefully scripted himself and his subject matter in the King’s English. He didn’t use a contemporary razzle-dazzle projector with high wattage that shows stunning photographs. Nor did we pass around magnificent photos of composers and the interiors of church sanctuaries or views of the orchestra and opera halls of the world. He didn’t put an ensemble before us to play superbly. He simply drew black squiggly lines on modern white presentation board to show us how music developed.
What was striking about this presentation was Roupen! His intense eyes…his warm smile…his obvious enthusiasm for music…his deep knowledge of his subject…and the way he gently bared his soul to us about his life’s work of composing, teaching, and continuing to learn. He was so infectiously earnest about what he was attempting to do in this brief course that we came away with little flecks of enthusiasm on us to use wherever we might in life. What a rich experience for those of us in our older years who think we know everything and, then, gently learn through teachers like Roupen what delights still lie before us and how much we have yet to learn.
Roupen helped me look at my own art of writing and telling stories in a different way. Why do I write? Why do I love writing? I’ve been literally writing all my life. I was encouraged to write by two English teachers in high school. They thought I had budding talent. They urged me to become a journalist or author.
Mom and Dad didn’t encourage me to write because Mom didn’t and Dad couldn’t. Mom was a church musician who played piano and organ at our small Methodist church. She had sung solos in her college years and after. Mom didn’t make time to write anything except letters. She wrote lots of them to friends and family. She wrote a letter every week to our family for forty years until she became a resident of a nursing home. She wanted me to be a musician and sing solos. She pushed hard.
Dad was not encouraged to read or write. His poor farm family had little education and none of them except Uncle George graduated from high school. Most of them went to grade school, if they got that far. At an early age, they were put to work either at home or on loan as farmhands or housemaids.
Dad insisted I go to college. He didn’t care what I took. The Drake University College of Liberal Arts introduced me to life beyond Mitchellville, my little hometown. My grade average was 3.67. From Drake, I went to Garrett, a graduate school of theology of the Methodist Church. I was ordained in 1961. My new bride and I moved to our first full-time appointment in the Methodist ministry.
I wrote many sermons in the ministry. I enjoyed writing them and, to some extent, preaching them. But sermons are designed to teach the Biblical story and inspire holy living but, not necessarily, to inspire the writer to bare that which is deep inside him. Whenever I was moved to let what was inside out in the hopes of being either inspirational or pedagogical, the act of preaching inspired some of my parishioners to try to be pedagogical with me. I wasn’t any more enthusiastic about pedagogy from them than they were to receive what I had to give.
I’ve found since being in Pan Writers under Bryan’s gentle guidance that writing is about letting the deepest emotion of my soul breathe free. It’s about releasing the observations, loves, and hates of the author’s life. Writing is a way of opening one’s self in interaction with other humans. It’s about naming what thrills and moves us in our lives. Writing is an emotional act, a releasing act, a creating act. Good writing is like all creative endeavors: it breathes and has a life that can inspire more life. It moves us to name our loves and conquer our misconceptions and hates. It swerves us from the path of “my way is right and yours is wrong” to the road of “let’s help each other find a way that works”.
So, Roupen, your little class was an inspiration to spur me to do some thinking about who I am and why I write. I caught something from your presentation that moved me from beyond myself. I’ve got a few more years to think about it…a few more years to explore this amazing world…a few more years to write. Thanks!